Twenty-seven years ago today, the space shuttle, Challenger, took off from its dock in Florida.
Seventy-three seconds into its voyage, it exploded.
I was 23 years old at the time. I remember I was driving down Interstate 581 on my way to my
part-time job after taking a class at Virginia Western Community College. I was
listening to the radio report of the launch of Challenger, a space shuttle
which would be taking a teacher into space.
I nearly wrecked the car when I heard the horror in the radio announcer's voice as he cried, "It's breaking up, it's
breaking up! Oh my God!"
I cried so hard I could hardly make it into the office. No one else there seemed to share my horror and dismay, but I remember it as well as I do any other national tragedy.
You can watch two minutes of CNN footage here; the news media missed it a bit by not realizing that something terrible had happened. Of course, I have hindsight on my side: I know when I see the explosion what exactly has happened. As the NASA spokesperson says, "obviously there was a major malfunction."
This explosion and loss of a space shuttle was particularly hard on the nation because Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, was on board. Lots of children were watching when Challenger suddenly burst into a ball of smoke and flame. All seven on board perished.
I have long been a fan of the space program and an admirer of people who would put their life on the line so that we might venture out into the great unknown. The space program, now defunded and derided by those who eschew knowledge and education in favor of fiscal prudence and safety, gave mankind many great innovations.
It also fostered hopes and dreams, and gave humanity a sense of purpose as exploration and accomplishments took place time and time again. If we could go into space, we could do anything. Space exploration was a tremendous step forward and an example of what we could accomplish when we worked together toward a common goal.
It was a glorious time in our history, even when bad things such as the Challenger explosion occurred.
I salute all of those heroes who set off in search of something more than themselves.